By SHEILA MURRAY
“I’ll tell you what,” Ossie Murray would say, “There’s nothing much to report about me. I didn’t have the temperament to set the world on fire.”
But he and my mum Joan made a commitment to service that lasted all their lives; concerned always with what was just, fair and good. Dad worked for Jamaica in Canada for 14 years. For the last 10 he was Jamaica’s Consul General and ultimately became Dean of the Consular Corps. By the time he and Joan retired to Jamaica in 1987, Ossie had lived abroad – in foreign – since 1948.
The Jamaican government sent Dad to Toronto as its first information officer. He was to serve the settlement issues of Jamaicans who began moving to Canada in the late 60s. A great wave of immigration that peaked in the mid 1970s. But he also nurtured a number of nascent cultural institutions, including the Jamaican-Canadian Association.
“He did his best to make, or start, or encourage the connections that made us into a cohesive community,” said Paula DeRonde, who founded Arts & Culture Jamaica Inc.
Ossie was particularly interested in the arts and found many ways to support the Jamaican painters, dancers, musicians and writers who either lived in Toronto or were passing through.
Dad was never a career diplomat. He came to the profession by accident, head-hunted after making a public statement about Jamaicans to the British press when working as an information officer in England. Before that, many doors had been half-opened.
Born in Jamaica in 1923, he attended Kingston College where he was a star athlete in cricket and tennis and eventually played for the national soccer team. But his endless curiosity (he never lost that quality) made him restless and he left Jamaica to follow his passions, one of them a woman, his first love. He was a romantic. A poet who wanted to make a writing life. He studied at a couple of colleges in the U.S., started a Master’s degree in ancient German Literature in Wisconsin, then dropped out – deciding against academia – and eventually sailed to Europe. He volunteered in work camps, mostly in Germany, contributing to post-war rebuilding. And finally, in London, England, he met Joan. They married as Quakers; the unencumbered simplicity of that Christian doctrine suited them perfectly. My parents lived the first year of their married life in a tiny caravan on a friend’s estate. Then came the family (me first, then Claire, followed by Peter) and Dad found work as a psychiatric nurse – a role he was incontestably qualified for since his father had been resident chief psychiatrist at Jamaica’s mental asylum, Bellevue, and Dad grew up on its grounds.
Community service didn’t end with retirement. Ossie made a pact with himself that his return to Jamaica would always include giving – whatever he could, to whomever was in need. Dad’s compassion and empathy must have been honed at Bellevue and were the qualities that came to characterize him above all else. After he died, we heard over and again from people (many of whom we didn’t know) who said, “Dad was like a father to me. He always had time to listen to me, and a little job when I needed it most.”
He helped children through school, young men and women find the work they needed, and old folk with prescriptions or a lift to a doctor’s appointment.
Ossie was an exceptional mix of intellectual and romantic. A man with great integrity, he was handsome (the ladies will attest), and charming.
He and Joan cherished their dogs and were continually delighted by their sun-soaked garden in the hills of Brown’s Town. Filled with the flowers and trees they planted, its luxuriant beauty provided a bountiful fruit harvest and an abundance of ebullient bird life.
Two years after Mum died, Dad woke from sleep to find the room full of light and Joan standing at the foot of the bed. She didn’t speak, but she was as real and present as any living being.
Dad would later write, “It was not as if it was something you could keep quiet about. It simply begged to be noised abroad.”
So he did. His book, The Third Person, was published in 2012. Bestselling author and columnist, Tom Harpur, called it “A most remarkable book by a totally remarkable man.”
At 89, Ossie was not the old man, but the new author. We all liked that.